Several months ago, the leader of a preacher search committee called me regarding a friend who had applied for their pulpit position. After a series of very good questions, he began asking a lot of questions that pertained to control.
It seemed the church recently had a minister/elder blowup. The church subsequently circled the wagons and now felt the last thing they wanted/needed was more “problems.” Here was the question he asked me about my friend:
“Can we control him?”
I asked him what he meant. As we talked, it seemed what he was really asking was, “Will he ultimately submit to the elders without incident, and resign likewise if it comes to it? Is he willing to allow the elders to “call the shots,” and disagree only modestly and briefly–as to avoid conflict? All of that seemed to be embedded in the question, “Can we control him?”
My response was, “I certainly hope not. Why would you want someone you could control?” His response, “Because we’ve had enough conflict.” I then suggested that by his definition my friend was not controllable. Not because he looks for conflict, but because he is a true preacher. Preachers who are truly called speak the truth no matter what–to whomever it must be spoken. This doesn’t mean they are brash, rude, or the proverbial bull in a china shop. It just means that a completely controllable preacher isn’t really a preacher. They are a spokesperson for the elders. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but they can be.
Being a preacher that is able to articulate effectively leadership’s vision (spokesperson) is a gift. However, simply acting however one must act to avoid disagreement or conflict is not what preaching is about. And, if such a “preacher” existed, would you really want him to occupy the pulpit every Sunday? Who wants to received biblical teaching from someone who is looks to his/her superiors first rather than to God…or worse…gets the two confused?
Churches need not look for the “controllable” preacher. Churches should look for a true preacher–one who knows when it’s time to submit to the group and time to challenge the group. They recognize when God’s Word is consistent with or violated by what is going on, and are willing to risk their “job” for integrity’s sake. They tell the truth as they see it to whomever, whenever, whatever the cost may be. Furthermore, they want to serve God in churches hungry to be what God has called them to be, not avoid conflict or wield control.
What is worse than conflict? Control with no accountability–or desire to hear the prophetic voice. Leadership without access to the prophetic voice when necessary sets itself up for moral and/or strategic failure. This failure will be born of pride, a commitment to listening within the confines of it’s own echo chamber and a desire to avoid conflict no matter what.
To be fair, some preachers believe themselves to be prophets when they are simply rude, immature, or judgmental. However, one of the worst things a church could do for it’s long-term spiritual health is bring in a “controllable” preacher. We would do better to humble ourselves and hone our ability to handle conflict in a healthy manner than to aspire to the lowest common denominator of leadership.
Do you think the church described above is unusual? How can churches synthesize a desire for peace and a desire to leave room to be challenged?